American Coot



Common Name:American Coot





Species:Fulica americana

Photo: Kyle Horton




The American Coot appears to be duck-like, but is actually more closely related to rails.  It is in the order Gruiformes and the family, Rallidae, which includes rails, crakes, coots, and gallinules.  The members of this family are generally shy birds that all have strong bills,  a face shield, with a short tail, and long toes.


Photo: Kyle Horton



The American Coot is a medium sized bird around 35 cm long. The species is not sexually dichromatic, but males on average are somewhat larger than females.  Coots have black heads, dark body, white under tail coverts, a white bill, and white shield.  Its feet are yellow-green to yellow orange and are lobed.  When flying you may be able to see a white outline on the edge of their wings.  Young American Coots are black with red to orange on head, blue around their eyes, and a red bill with black tip.

The American Coot is a migratory species found mostly within North America.  It has an extensive breeding range that is centralized in the western and central North America. extends north into southern Canada down to central Mexico and the Caribbean.  The American Coot mainly winters in south-eastern United States, Mexico and Central America.  The American Coot breeds in freshwater habitats that have emergent vegetation along the banks with standing water.  During the winter, it inhabits freshwater as well as brackish or marine habitats such as lagoons and coastal bays. This species is an omnivore eating mostly aquatic vegetation and algae, but will also consume grains, seeds, grasses, aquatic invertebrates, and aquatic vertebrates.  They feed using a variety of behaviors including pecking on the surface of the water to dabbling in shallows and diving in deeper waters.


Photo: Kyle Horton



The American Coot is generally a water bird.  It can walk and run on land, but is rarely found long distances from water.  Their lobed feet enable the American Coot to walk in mucky substances such as riverbanks.  The bird is a strong swimmer and they have specialized muscles to help them with this. American Coots commonly bathe and preen in the water. Since they are so aggressive, predators take few of their eggs.  However, American Crow have been seen to prey on coot eggs and other predators such as  Northern Harrier, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle, Great Black-backed Gull prey on juvenile and adult Coots.  To defend themselves American Coots use aggressive behaviors, alarm calls, group splashing, and diving to protect against predators.


The American Coot nests from April to August and is a socially monogamous species where extra pair copulations are rare.  The nest is a floating structure usually attached to emergent vegetation.  The outer portion is made of coarser vegetation, while the inside is made of finer steams and forms an egg cup.  The female plays the central role in building the nest, but males have been seen carrying nesting materials to the female. A single female may make up to seven different nests; eggs are laid in one or two nests and the others may be used for displaying, copulating, or brooding.  The clutch size can be anywhere from 8-12 speckled eggs .   Incubation begins anytime from the first to the last egg and lasts about 23 to 25 days.  Both males and females have been observed incubating eggs.  Chicks are precocial and are capable of leaving the nest six hours after hatching.  Both parents will feed the chicks, lead older chicks to foraging areas and defend them.  Chicks fledge at 75 days and the parents will drive young from their territory when the young are 80 days old.




The American Coot is a common wetland bird usually found in larger bodies of water.  It is more common locally during migratory season  especially from March to May. During this time they are locally common in the Buffalo Outer Harbor near Tifft Nature preserve as well as at Cayuga Overlook in Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. They are also seen during the winter mainly around Niagara Falls near Goat Island. They are found less commonly in Western New York during the summer though few may still be seen at Iroquois NWR near Cayuga Overlook.



Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.